Long Distance Denial

31 May

Recently I read that the author Isabel Allende, in exile from Chile, began writing what would be her (fabulous) first book as a letter to her Grandfather when she couldn’t be there in his death. Based on this, I would say that good things could come from having family pass away while you’re far away and unable to return. But so far for me it’s really just caused me bureaucracy-induced trauma and paved a nice clear path to this unintentional state of denial.

It’s been over a month, and it still doesn’t feel real that my dad could be dead. I keep reminding myself of anecdotes and personal news tidbits to tell him next time he calls me.  Thinking of what we’re going to do on his next visit. Getting ready to call him on his birthday. Then stopping myself, trying to remember that, no, he’s gone, Julia. And then wondering if I really have to remember now, or if I can put that off till later. Maybe it’ll sink in when I go back home. Maybe not.  It might have helped if I’d been able to go home when it happened. Been there for the memorial service. If I’d even had time to grieve. But it’d also be nice if my dad just wouldn’t have died yet in the first place. I didn’t have much choice on any of those matters, so here we are. In accidental denial.

Granted, there is no murderous dictatorship happening in my country, so my exile isn’t nearly as black and white as Isabel Allende’s. Plus I have slightly more technological access, even here in Southern Oaxaca, than what was available to Allende at the time of her Grandfather’s death. I could’ve gone back to Kentucky if a) my dad had died when I still had plenty of maternity leave (gosh, Death, couldn’t you have checked people’s schedules?); b) I had spent my maternity leave getting paperwork together instead of bonding with my baby and spending time with family, including my dad; and/or c) left my one month old behind. Different reasons, same result: I couldn’t go home. I tried, though. I tried.

My dad passed away at the tail end of my maternity leave. And while I’m sure that my work would have given me a couple more days off, a couple more days was not going to cut it. Because neither Louisville, Kentucky, nor Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, are major hubs of international travel, it typically takes two days of travel to get from one to the other. Which meant even to go home for one day would mean a whole work week off- and who wants to travel four days with a newborn and a little one to be somewhere for one day? But they didn’t really want to give me a week off, anyway, and I couldn’t risk losing my job. It didn’t even have to come down to my job standing in the way, though, because I couldn’t get Khalil’s U.S. passport in time.

All humans travelling to another country need a passport, even at 5 weeks old. We knew this because we’d had to get Lucia’s passport to come to Mexico when she was 7 weeks old. I was hopeful, however, that maybe we’d be able to travel with only Khalil’s Mexican passport, which I knew we could acquire in just one day if we went to Oaxaca City. It seemed possible in the moment.

Conan and I started making phone calls right after I received the news about my dad.  (Okay, I might have opened my stashed-away bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon first, despite it being a bit before noon. We don’t need to discuss that part.) The nice people at Mexican Migración assured us that the Mexican passport folks would surely see us without an appointment, under the circumstances. I had to figure out if we also needed the U.S. passport or not, and if so, how to acquire it immediately. The answers were not coming to our house, not even with the bottle of bourbon nearby.

Conan gathered up our little family and ushered us over to a friend’s house. We spent hours there, with Lucia parked in front of the laptop becoming a zombie from watching so many videos, me parked in front of our friend’s computer screen trying to find information. Conan took care of Khalil except for the eating part (thus I did not drink the amount of bourbon that I wished to drink). I was back and forth with my mom- was this document at her house? What about this thing? I harassed my awesome immigration lawyer friend for free legal advice on Facebook (tacky and shameless, I know, but she was very nice about it). I googled until I was blue in the face. I made phone calls and more phone calls, waiting on hold more than talking. Despite all the effort, I made zero progress on getting to Kentucky that day.

I did get relevant, albeit depressing, information, though. I found out that if we went to the U.S. with only the Mexican passport and not his U.S. passport, they might give my newborn a tourist visa upon arrival, if we got really lucky, or they might turn us around and send us straight back to Mexico. Not a risk I was willing to take. So I talked to the U.S. passport folks some more and got my information there straightened out.

When I explained that my dad had died and I needed to get home in a hurry, the folks at the U.S. consulate in Mexico City agreed to speak with me, although it wasn’t the correct hour of the day for passport questions. “Isn’t there anybody you could leave the baby with for a couple days?” they asked me first. “No,” I told them, without explaining that I was totally unwilling to leave my brand new baby for days on end, both for breastfeeding reasons and for my own emotional needs (being totally unprepared to deal with my dad’s death and not have my husband or baby with me). So then they informed me that yes, I could potentially get Khalil’s passport the same day, but that I would have to go to Mexico City, and that it wasn’t a guarantee. And no, they couldn’t cut corners on any of the extensive requirements for the process.

And extensive might be an understatement. With Lucia, it seemed like a hardship trying to get her passport in time to travel when we were just barely surviving this whole having-a-newborn-baby thing. But that was NOTHING compared to what was expected for Khalil. Before my dad died, I’d pretty much given up on going to the US this year, because every time I looked at the requirements I just felt overwhelmed. Dealing with death on top of it didn’t make it any less overwhelming, but it gave me some grim determination to get it out of the way. The more information I got, however, the more impossible it sounded to make it in time to mourn with everyone else. By day two I resigned myself to just the vague hope of getting to my Kentucky family for my vacation in July of this year.

I had madness to deal with if I wanted my son to go to the U.S. ever. To prove your kid’s right to U.S. citizenship, they want time-stamped photos of you and your partner before and during the pregnancy, and for the time immediately after birth. They want ultrasound pictures. They want the exact dates for every day you’ve been in the United States for every moment of your life (which is problematic if you’ve travelled a lot and don’t remember your exact dates and can’t find your old passport. And don’t they already have that information, anyway? Don’t they have records of who enters the country and when? But I digress.) They need the birth certificate, the hospital record, the marriage certificate, tax forms, vaccine records, and your first born. (Okay, maybe they don’t want to keep your first born.) Here’s a link to the complete list of requirements to prove your child’s citizenship. You might want to read this if you’re a U.S. citizen and you’ve ever considered giving birth abroad, or if you’d just like to have a good laugh, imagining new parents getting all this together in their excessive amounts of spare time.


The biggest problem was proving that I was in the US all those years that I was. I had my college transcripts and diplomas here, but that was it. And that might or might not be enough for them. There was no way I was going to Mexico City for the passport, because I didn’t have it together enough to be worth the risk of them maybe not giving me his passport there. And I just didn’t have time to get it together in a day or two. It took me over two hours in the internet café, nursing Khalil, Lucia playing outside the café with Conan, just to fill out and scan the Step 1 paperwork- after doing hours of prep work to be able to fill out the papers in the first place.  I was back and forth to the internet for days on end it seemed, ordering paperwork (to be sent to my mom’s house, where she’d have to send it to me), making appointments. Plus we were getting things together for his Mexican passport, which was nothing compared to the US one, but was still more work. I spent 50 pesos on copies alone, which is impressive since each copy only costs a half a peso. On top of it all, I was parenting an almost-three-year-old, nursing a newborn, pumping milk for my impending return to work, and trying to make sure we slept and ate meals as if life were normal. It was madness. I did everything except grieve, because I didn’t have the time or the energy to feel anything but my grim determination.

We got most of the madness together in the 5 days I had between my dad’s passing and my return to work full time. I went to work that Monday through Friday, and then I got the time off work to go to the appointments in Oaxaca City, which is a seven hour van ride (public transportation) away. A miracle happened and the last of the paperwork I needed from the U.S. got delivered to my work about an hour and a half before our departure for Oaxaca. Both parents and the baby must apply in person, which means Lucia went with us as well. We went up on Saturday night and came back Tuesday night, opting to be in the van all night so at least Lucia wouldn’t suffer that many hours of being on the road.

We spent Monday getting Khalil’s Mexican passport, which we got the same day, and Tuesday applying for the US passport, which I’m still waiting for, hoping it’s in the mail soon. And then back to work, to pumping milk, to having two small kids, to still not having electricity, to struggling to maintain. I still don’t have time to grieve.

So I couldn’t be there for my dad’s memorial service. I missed out on his wake. I missed out on the support from most other people who knew and loved my dad. I’m grieving piecemeal, just a bit at a time. Here and there I remember that my dad won’t be calling me soon. That I can’t tell him about that funny thing Lucia just said, or how big Khalil is getting already. Or I see something my dad gave us this last visit, think about something that happened then, and think, “He can’t be gone. He just gave us this. He was just here.” And then I sigh at myself because part of me knows the truth.

Little moments hurt.  Lucia talked to my stepmom on the phone the other day, and said, “I wanna talk to Paw-Paw.” And I almost broke down right there, but didn’t. At random times she says, “Mommy, when we go to Kentucky, we’re not gonna see Paw-Paw. Just Gamma.” She says it cheerily, because she’s correctly reciting something important I told her. It was the only thing I could think to tell her to try to explain why I was crying all the time those first few days. So she recites what she knows without understanding it. And part of me doesn’t understand it, either. Maybe I won’t until I get to Kentucky. Maybe I won’t even get it all the way then. Because after my visit I’ll come back to my new home, so far from everybody, and I’ll be able to still wait for his phone call. Maybe I’ll just hold on to my long distance denial. Maybe this is the way I’m destined to lose my dad- to suffer his loss little by little, one missed phone call, one lost visit at a time, so my little exiled heart keeps beating like it has to.

2 Responses to “Long Distance Denial”

  1. lee1978 May 31, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

    I’m so sorry you are hurting. Grieving is never easy and the distance certainly makes things harder. Long distance hugs as you walk this path

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